Managing Your Maternity Leave

Planning your leave

Planning Your Maternity Leave
Before you begin negotiating your maternity leave, you need to do the following important things first:
  • Begin planning early—As soon as you know you're pregnant, start musing about the responsibilities. Don't hesitate to toss out ideas and ponder new ones. The initial confusion will eventually sort itself out, and you'll be clearer about the way to go. Jot down ideas as they come to you. Refer to your notes often until you decide whether your idea has merit.
  • Research your organization—Get a read on the culture of your company by talking to people who have successfully negotiated flexible work arrangements for themselves. Know your supervisor and your negotiating position in the company.
  • Check your office manual for flexible work policies and review their provisions thoroughly—Research your company's literature to study your employer's mission statements, company credos, and consider how you can pull the language in these statements for possible inclusion into your written proposal.
  • Review your company's short-term disability and medical policies—You should search for anything that strikes you as treating pregnancy as any different from any other short-term disability. (Some disability plans will provide for a paid leave to begin two to four weeks before your due date. That would give you time to tie up the loose ends, arrange the baby's room, or just relax.) Of course, your company may have a specific maternity leave policy, so be sure to study that as well.

Find out specifically what paid and unpaid leave you are eligible for. You might have some leave without pay that still includes benefits (usually a combination of your company's maternity leave policy, a short-term disability program, and accrued time off). Add up your accumulated vacation, sick, and personal days, and determine just how much unpaid leave your finances will allow. (Keep in mind when budgeting that your employer can legally require you to use up your paid leave first, and that some states require you to cover at least a portion of your leave before disability kicks in.) Again, check with your state labor office to learn about disability options. This is particularly important if you are working in a smaller company.

  • Review your work performance since your last job evaluation—You will want to show two things: First, that you can and have done the job, even through you're pregnant. Second, you want to pay attention so that when the employer starts to reduce your duties, you can document the change. Then make an appointment with your human resources department and let them know about your pregnancy.
  • Talk to someone who understands your company's policy—Your personnel officer, union representative, human resources department, or office manager will know the answers to your questions. Larger companies will have the facts, in writing, usually in the employee's handbook. You are legally entitled to look at it without having to say why or to specify what policy or policies you're reviewing. Many companies also have this information on the Internet. The smaller your company, the less likely it is to have an official policy (see "What to Do If Your Employer Does Not Have a Maternity Leave Policy," below). You may discover that no policy exists because it's preferred to provide a general leave negotiated on an individual bias.
  • Gather intelligence—Talk to several other women in the firm who have gone on maternity leave. They can tell you whether obtaining your rights will be easy or a struggle. Discreetly ask them how they managed to strike a deal. Assuming that a maternity leave policy does exist, your guiding principle in considering it is a simple question: is it made more difficult for pregnant women than for disabled employees? If your company allows employees to return to the job after a heart attack, or an injury from a car accident, or continues their pay while they heal, then it must provide at least the same terms for your disability leave.
  • Approach the meeting in a matter-of-fact way and avoid any antagonistic statements—The person you're meeting with wants to inform you, not to argue about an already established policy. Use the Maternity Leave Policy Worksheet that follows to document the facts about your company's maternity leave policy.

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excerpted from:

© 2005 by Marla Schram Schwartz. Excerpted from The Working Woman's Baby Planner with permission of its publisher, Sourcebooks, Inc.

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